George Ashby's Active Policy of a Prince: Lancastrian Kingship and Political Advice in the Wars of the Roses

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    How do you rule a country in times of political instability and societal unrest? This perennially important question is central to the political advice poem Active Policy of a Prince, written for the English crown prince by the fifteenth-century poet George Ashby. There is no single answer. To the public, the king needs to appear as the ideal virtuous and pious ruler, but in practice he sometimes needs to resort to more ruthless measures to deal with potential threats to his position. Ashby thus formulates a vision on pragmatic leadership that would become popular only fifty years later through Machiavelli’s The Prince, whose name is forever connected to such realpolitik.

    Ashby wrote his poem at the height of the Wars of the Roses (c. 1450-1485), a time of great political changes. His often contradictory advice shows how difficult it is to oversee the consequences of societal changes that are still ongoing. Ashby’s tendency is to long for the political stability of the past and, above all, for forceful leadership. His conservatism and his emphasis on the protection of his own social group are illustrative of the human response to political uncertainty, of which we still see plenty of examples in contemporary political discourse.

    Ashby’s poetry is seldom read, neither by students nor by experts of late medieval poetry and politics. My thesis shows why this ‘Machiavelli of England’ should not be forgotten, but rather should be studied in more detail.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Sobecki, Sebastian, Supervisor
    • Dekker, Kees, Co-supervisor
    Award date22-May-2023
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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